When the Class of 2008 graduated from America’s universities, a fortunate few immediately landed jobs in their chosen fields. Many of the rest were forced to accept positions for which they were over-qualified. However, some chose a third option – contingent work. These individuals, and many who lost their permanent positions, took on a series of temporary assignments with different companies.
What has happened to these individuals?
The 2015 job market has changed significantly. A growing percentage of the American labor force chooses temporary work assignments over permanent positions. As companies are increasingly dependent on non-employee workers to provide business flexibility and access to scarce talent, they are engaging temporary workers to fill professional, technical and managerial positions. This has eliminated the previous stereotypes of them as poor performers unable to secure permanent work. The bottom line: for many, what began as a necessity has become a career choice!
Research has found that contingent assignments and freelance work can lead to career happiness. While 76% of workers who switched to contingent work were found to have been very dissatisfied prior to making the switch, 81% of contingent workers were found to be happy. Let us try and understand what could motivate a fulltime worker to take up contingent work:
Work-life balance – Contingent work offers more flexibility in terms of hours worked, time off between assignments, and work locations.
Higher wages – As we examine the growth in wages of our Class of 2008, we find that those who immediately accepted a permanent position report little or no increase in base salary over the first three years, and annual increases of less than 3% over the past three years. In contrast, those with technical or professional skills who have pursued careers as contingent workers have been able to re-negotiate their compensation with each assignment, resulting in an average annual increase in compensation of 8-10%.
Accelerated skills development – Each new assignment exposes the worker to new challenges, business strategies and operational procedures. The rake of new skills development far outpaces those with fixed responsibilities and one employer.
Less stress – Many employees report that primary sources of workplace stress include office politics, implications of restructuring or leadership changes, the struggle for advancement within the organization, and fear of being terminated. These factors do not apply to contingent workers.
Better fit with personalities and work styles – Offices demand that all the workers must be excellent team players but not everyone could be a team player. Some may prefer to be sole contributors.
Rapid development of entrepreneurial skills – Many contingent workers indicate that their long-term goal is to start their own business, and find that experience gained as a contingent worker is great preparation.
Of course, not all contingent workers experience the same levels of career satisfaction. Those in technical and professional positions tend to be embraced as members of the client’s core team. These individuals indicate the highest levels of enthusiasm for contingent work. Those serving as laborers or in clerical positions often experience treatment as a commodity and are limited in their ability to negotiate wages, lowering their satisfaction.
Differences are also noted between contingent workers placed by staffing agencies and those serving as freelancers. Agency-placed contractors report work satisfaction ratings that are equal to or greater than permanent employees, while freelancers often indicate lower levels of satisfaction. This is mainly attributed to their need to source their next engagement, administer their payroll and tax payments, and assume other stressful responsibilities that are performed by the staffing agencies.
In our next blog, we will explore steps that can be taken by companies to ensure that contingent workers are happy in their assignments and committed to the engagement.
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